By Brian Yurkiw, vice president of Arbor Solution
Many companies are thinking about transitioning their mobile device field users from a notebook to a tablet. The motivations can be compelling, including: improved user acceptance, increased productivity, lower device costs and device consolidation. But these benefits bring obvious and subtle challenges to such an effort, including: operating system transition demands, support for portable use, vehicle re-configuring and user re-training.
Let us start with the understanding that the field work group considering this transition will accept the tablet technology. Typically, the primary qualifier is that the group can effectively use a tablet in place of a notebook. Driving that qualifier is whether the user requires a keyboard. If the application has limited data entry, there is potential that a tablet would be sufficient.
- Improved user acceptance--the tablet is cool. Users could already be using a version of the technology in the form of a consumer smartphone or tablet. With this starting point, many users will want a tablet. Many will already be familiar with the user interface and the migration to the tablet will be smooth.
- Productivity gains--perhaps the most significant benefit of moving to a tablet is leveraging the highly portable nature of a tablet. With this form factor, it is more likely the device will be carried to the point of use as compared to being left in the vehicle. This behavior delivers a productivity improvement with the reduction of redundant tasks, more accurate data collection at the point of need, and system updates in real time.
- Lower device costs--a tablet can fundamentally be at a lower price point than the equivalent notebook in the same device category.
- Device consolidation--standard features in a tablet (think about your smartphone) include many fully integrated technologies, (e.g., GPS) at no premium price--but not all. One feature that should be considered in a utility environment is voice. If the tablet includes voice support, there is a potential benefit in eliminating the need for a separate cell phone and the monthly cost of that device to the enterprise. One such tablet that includes voice support is the Arbor Gladius 5 rugged tablet, which has dual subscriber identity module (SIM) card support to give field workers the option to switch between Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) carriers.
- Transition to a tablet friendly operating system--the enterprise IT group will need to take the necessary steps to prepare for the device's deployment with consideration for security, administration and control.
- Support for portable use--the tablet is typically lighter and smaller, but one of the reasons for the adoption of this form factor is its portable use. Accessory options to support effective carrying (hands free or otherwise) while operating the tablet will be essential to gaining the user acceptance that was originally anticipated.
- Vehicle reconfiguring--the organization's fleet group will need to engage to make certain the device can be properly mounted in the vehicle. Perhaps unique to this transition will be that the previous mount assembly may have to be removed and a new assembly installed. Often the new assembly can be a bit less robust--because the tablet is likely smaller and lighter--so re-use of some parts can be leverage. But let us not forget the required vehicle accessories including power and peripherals.
- User training--we began with the premise that the user was likely already familiar with a tablet and the user interface. While this is probably true, there are going to be nuances that still demand the consideration of training. The application that was previously on the notebook might change significantly with the new form factor and training will be demanded. But in addition to this, the company might be implementing a tablet technology on a different operating system and, regardless, this basic training will be essential.
In conclusion, when considering transition from a notebook to a tablet for your utility field workers, consider the potential benefits and the challenges the transition will present. Tablets, such as the Gladius Series from Arbor Solution, have the potential to consolidate required devices, increase productivity, lower device costs and improve user acceptance. With screen size options ranging from 5.5 inch to 10.4 inch, Military Standard environmental certifications and a host of features, Arbor has a tablet solution for each utility application.